How many times can someone say they touched and got a picture with a baby Panda? Only Chengdu can you have this chance. Where else besides Sichuan can you test the limits of your tolerance for spicy food? And where else besides China can you see people practicing Tai Chi on the corner of a busy street?
The Chengdu program taught me that I have the ability to integrate myself into a culture that is vastly different than my own. The staff in Chengdu is incredibly helpful and wants students to succeed. I was very appreciative of the huge amount of time and effort that they put into making sure students are comfortable, safe and happy. While in Chengdu I had the opportunity to teach English at a school not far from my host university. This opportunity was set up by Wentao, the resident director for the USAC program. I taught one on one classes with six students and enjoyed every minute I had with them.
Chengdu is a huge city, far larger than my hometown of Reno, Nevada. It was overwhelming at first to navigate my way around the many bus routes and subway routes I could take to get to where I needed to go. But I quickly learned that the host university, Southwest University for Nationalities, is perfectly located next to all the major bus routes so I never had trouble getting to where I needed to be.
China is unique in an uncountable number of ways. It is diverse, huge and exotic. But many things about China are also familiar, comfortable and welcoming. You can find anything you would ever need in a huge city like Chengdu. You can also find things you never knew you needed until you see it, like a necklace with your name engraved on a grain of rice.
Every day is a new adventure because so many things are new. The USAC program in Chengdu prepares you to set aside your hesitations and go for it, try something new and if you hate it, well you tried it and you can learn how to move on to something you will like.
Through the process of becoming self-sufficient and independent I realized that it is entirely possible to find my way in a huge city, despite being a small city girl. I became much more confident in myself during my program abroad and I am anxiously awaiting the day that I can return to continue where I left off.
Well, the pollution was a big downfall, not that USAC or staff can do anything about it. But I would say that the program is structured in a way that allows students to get to know each other at their own pace, no one is forced into anything they don't want to do and so the program itself is as close to perfect as it can get.
The one thing I would change with the program is the language partner program. While it was great to meet with other students from Chinese universities, I did not feel that I was able to find a language partner that would adequately be able to help me improve my Chinese. I was lucky that many students who did not attend USAC related events approached me and offered to help me with my Chinese. My closest friend was someone who approached me outside of a convenience store. He offered to help me with my Chinese after we talked briefly about his experience spending two years in England.
I was very lucky to have him to help me with my Chinese language skills but not many other students were able to have that experience. So I would say that it would be great if at the very beginning of the program, in the first week or so, USAC students were able to meet with Chinese students and start developing those relationship right away.